Thursday, February 11, 2016

The One Where I Get Sucked into the Mecki Universe

This circa 1960 postcard, warped and heavily creased down the middle, served as my introduction to Mecki, the famed hedgehog of German pop culture.

If you're from Germany, Mecki needs little explanation. He's as ubiquitous as Bugs Bunny, Darth Vader or the Kardashians are here in the United States.

Gleaning information from translated German-language websites and a variety of other sources, here's what I can tell you about this anthropomorphic hedgehog:

  • Mecki has his genesis in the Grimm Brothers' tale "The Hare and the Hedgehog," which is, of course, a variant of the more ancient "The Tortoise and the Hare," from Aesop's Fables.
  • Then along came the Diehl brothers — Ferdinand, Paul and Hermann. They were pioneers in stop-motion film-making, with 1937's The Seven Ravens being perhaps their most well-known movie outside of Germany. During World War II, the brothers were commissioned to make educational films for the Third Reich. Out of that effort came a silent version of "The Hare and the Hedgehog," which featured the yet-unnamed Mecki. The short film was popular both in the classroom and with soldiers.
  • After the war, in 1946, a German equivalent of TV Guide magazine, titled Hörzu, was launched. A cartoon version of the Diehl brothers' movie hedgehog became the magazine's mascot, and it was named Mecki by Hörzu editor Eduard Rhein. The was some lengthy legal wrangling between Hörzu and the Diehl brothers, because Mecki's image had been used by Hörzu with permission. Eventually the two sides came to an agreement.
  • From there, we'll let Dr. Sigrun Lehnert pick it up, in this excerpt from a 2014 post on Animationstudies 2.0:
    "In a lawsuit, the publishing rights for comics and books were assigned to Hörzu, whereas the rights for the doll-production were assigned to the toy company Steiff. One of the Diehl brothers, Ferdinand, started his own cartoon film production in 1948 and made films on Mecki adventures. ... The Mecki films were intended to be educational, such as Mecki Fights the Flu (1952) or Mecki, the Just (1954). Moreover, stories of Mecki ... were used to increase the voter impact in times of German Bundestag elections: Mecki directly encouraged his audience to go to the ballot box and prevent the empowerment of radical groups — particularly those with pro-Nazi attitudes. Mecki made sure to point the viewers to the potential consequences of political abstinence."
  • And that was just the start, as Mecki developed into a pop-culture empire, with books, comics, toys and much more. Mecki's "friends" include Micki, Charly Penguin, Chilly, Poppo, Kokolastro (the villain) and, according to Google Translate, "the seven genuine Syrian golden hamsters."

Getting back to the postcard, it dates to those post-war, stop-motion films made by Ferdinand Diehl. The text on the front, Alles für die Gesundheit, translates to "for health" or "all for health."

Here are some Mecki film clips you might find interesting...

In "The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation": History of Stop-Motion Feature Films: Part 1, author Ken A. Priebe makes an interesting point about one aspect of the Diehls' stop-motion film-making, both before and during the Mecki films:
"An interesting prelude to [1937's The Seven Ravens] shows a live actor taking a jester puppet out of a box and assembling it, before the jester comes to life through stop-motion and begins narrating the story. It was a common theme of the Diehl brothers to show the process of stop-motion in this manner, as if signaling to the audience right away that they were watching a puppet film. They also used the technique in their short films featuring Mecki the Hedgehog, who would come to life after being sculpted right on his workshop table. Because most films exist only within themselves and would not show the actual process, this was a unique approach to the puppet film. It seemed to suggest to the audience right away what they were actually watching, while at the same time creating a very realistic and believable world in miniature."
Here are a couple final links about Mecki:

This postcard is dated October 31, 1960, and addressed to the Fetterman family of Paterson, New Jersey. The message states:
"Dear Everybody, I left the hospital Oct. 22nd and get along nicely. Your long letter from Oct. 14th contains a lot of food for thought and was a welcome change for a 'penned-in.' The weather does not permit me to sit outdoors and therefore I stick my nose in books too. At the present I read Dostojevski's The Idiot. It's great! Congratulations on your new driving effort! More power to you. With lots of love to everyone from all of us."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Hampshire and deep thoughts on the inevitability of nothingness*

As our nation turns its eyes to today's New Hampshire Primary (is Morris running again?), here's a vintage postcard from The Granite State. I can't determine specifically when it was published based on the information on the back, but a fair guess is the early 1960s.

The numbered map highlights such attractions as the Flume Gorge, the Old Man of the Mountain (gone since 2003), the Whaleback Lighthouse, the Mount Washington Auto Road, Mount Chocorua, and the Mount Cranmore Skimobile (dismantled in 1989).

Nothing lasts forever. The Old Man has fallen, the Skimobile is gone and, some day, the Whaleback Lighthouse, which was erected 187 years ago, in 1829, will scatter as dust and Mount Chocorua will erode to nothingness.

In researching this post, I also came across a used-book store, Homestead Bookshop, that closed last April in Marlborough, New Hampshire.

Mountains, mechanical wonders, books, glossy postcards, presidential candidates ... they're all just fleeting. Ephemeral.

But I digress...
* * *

This postcard was never used. For the record, publishing information on the back includes:

  • NC475B in the lower left.
  • "Published by Bromley & Company, Inc., Boston, Mass. 02210"
  • Mike Roberts, Berkeley 94710
  • "C30346" in the stamp box
* * *
*This blog post title was supposed to be "New Hampshire postcard and deep thoughts on the inevitability of nothingness," but I think my slip-up actually works quite well, all things considered. Weird post, I know.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Doomed goat stars in Victorian trade card for Kerr & Co.

This Victorian trade card, which is about the size of a standard index card, touts Kerr & Company's Extra Six Cord Spool Cotton. It features a clever illustration of Aesop's "The Fox and the Goat," with cotton spools taking the place of the well in the fable.

The fable, which, like all of the fables, has many variants, generally involves a fox trapped in a well tricking a goat into joining him and then climbing up and over the goat in order to escape, leaving the goat trapped. Morals from this fable include:

Look before you leap.
Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties.

I have one quibble with the illustration, though. In the fable, the goat himself goes into the well. But the Cotton Spool Well, as drawn, does not have a wide-enough opening for the goat to fit. (Yes, I think about these things.)

Kerr & Co. incorporated in 1888 and was based in Paisley, Scotland. The history is a little murky, but it appears that Kerr was taken over by competitor J & P Coats around 1895. Though it has long been out of business, the company's trademark was apparently not dissolved until the first decade of this century.

Previous posts featuring goats

Sunday, February 7, 2016

More 1973 comic book silliness

On the heels of yesterday's post about the Glow Spokes advertisement in the November/December 1973 issue of DC Comics' "Sword of Sorcery," here's a portion of another advertisement from that same issue.

The advertisement is for products from The Gayle House of Flushing, New York. There are 10 products being pitched, and it's a weird mix of stuff:

  • Invite your friends over for a Haunting: Imagine how shocked your friends will be when you flip out the lights and they hear sounds like the howl of a wolf, a creeking [sic] door, chains rattling, screams, moaning and many more creepy sounds. This 7" 33-1/3 RPM special sound effects record is not sold in any store. Be the first to get it. Only $1.00.
  • Mr. Baldy Bigshot Skin Head Wig: Now's your chance to play the "big shot." You'll be "the boss" when you put on this skin head wig and look several years older. You'll get a million laughs. Only $1.00.
  • Giant Vampire Bat: This creepy creature of the night is made of life-like black rubber. Its wings spread out to a full 13" across and flap with a life-like motion as you jiggle its cord. Hang it in your room, car or anywhere else you think it will "shock" them. Only $1.00.
  • The Secret Seat Bomb: Place this secret seat bomb under the cushion of any chair or couch. When someone sits on it, the "BOMB" goes off with a blast! You'll get a million laughs. Completely harmless and may be used over and over again. Only 50¢.
  • Magician's Bag of Tricks: Your friends will be shocked and amazed at your new abilities to mystify and fool them. This bag of tricks contains all you'll need — four secret magician's devices plus a complete instruction book on how to do 102 different magic tricks. Only $1.50.
  • Magic Cards: Fool and amaze your friends many times over with this trick deck. You'll be the hit of the party. No one will know the secrets but you. This deck comes complete with easy to follow instructions for 10 different tricks. Only $1.50.
  • 50 Fighter Planes: You get 50 scale model unbreakable fighter planes of different countries — all you need to reenact history's famous air battles. Hang them from threads and fly them all at once! Only $1.00.
  • Frankenstein Mask: Put on this rubber face mask and you'll look like a nightmare come true. Authentic in every detail — you'll be sure to shake up everyone who sees you wearing it. Only $1.98.
  • Bloody Soap: Smear some of this powder on any bar of soap. When someone begins to use the soap, it will turn their hands and face bloody red. You won't be able to stop laughing. Completely harmless. Only 25¢.
  • Foaming Sugar: This appears to be normal sugar, but when it is dropped into liquid it foams right out of the cup, glass or bowl. Switch it for the real stuff then sit back and wait to laugh. Completely harmless. Only 25¢.

Vintage comic books advertisements have been rich fodder for bloggers, humorists, historians and folks looking for a nostalgia kick since the the Interwebs took flight. Here are some groovy links I found that discuss The Gayle House and some similar products.

Also, while I have not read it, here's a plug for the well-reviewed 2011 book Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais.

That book, with a five-star rating, appears to be one thing you can order by mail and not end up being disappointed.

Now, stop reading and go check on your Sea Monkeys!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Glow Spokes will make your bicycle totally rad!

This half-page advertisement is from the November/December 1973 issue of DC Comics' short-lived "Sword of Sorcery."1 The fine print states:
HEY KIDS!! Spark up your bike! Be the first on your block with Glow Spokes!

"Glow Spokes" snap on to the wheels in seconds — no tools needed — and what a sparkling effect! Standing still or riding around, you flash a dazzling display of color that makes your bike stand out from all the rest. Brightly colored by day, "Glow Spokes" make you safer and more visible by night.

Money back guarantee if you are not delighted.

One dollar was no small investment 43 years ago, especially when all it bought you was a few strands of colorful plastic. It would be the equivalent of more than $5 today. For bits of plastic that will probably just end up in the Great Pacific Gyre. But, hey, it made you safer at night, so maybe it was a good investment.

The Jart In My Head blog (author: Chris Jart), which ran for nearly 150 posts from 2005 to 2007 and will hopefully be archived for posterity, had the following snark for Glow Spokes:
"We didn't need no stinkin' glow spokes. We attached playing cards to our back wheels with clothes pins so they'd sound like a motorcycle...well, to a kid it sounds that way. The ad shows a teenage boy with Glow Spokes on his wheels and talks about their 'dazzling display of color.' But I'd be willing to bet that any boy who put these on his bike would be taunted so unmercifully that the things would be in the trash by the end of the day."
Yep. We used playing cards or, even better, common Topps cards featuring stinkin' New York Mets. Anything to make our bikes cooler as we sped home to watch Battle of the Planets.

Related posts (Comic Books Division)

1. "Sword of Sorcery" featured tales of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a pair of iconic fantasy heroes who almost certainly never used Glow Spokes.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Linen postcard: Parachute jump at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island

This colorful old postcard shows the iconic Parachute Jump at Coney Island's Steeplechase Park. Though the ride ceased operations more than a half-century ago, the structure remains in place today, the only remnant of Steeplechase still standing.

Steeplechase, which was in operation from 1897 to 1964, was Coney Island's longest-lasting amusement park. The Parachute Jump made its debut at the 1939 New York World's Fair.1 Afterward, it was purchased by the park owners2 and moved to its current location to become a Steeplechase attraction starting in 1941. It ceased operations in 1964, when the park closed.3

Here is a description of the ride from the World's Fair guidebook:
"Eleven gaily-colored parachutes operated from the top of a 250-foot tower, enable visitors to experience all the thrills of 'bailing out' without the hazard or discomfort. Each parachute has a double seat suspended from it. When two passengers have taken their places beneath the 'chute, a cable pulls it to the summit of the tower. An automatic release starts the drop, and the passengers float gently to the ground. Vertical guide wires prevent swaying, a metal ring keeps the 'chute open at all times, and shock-absorbers eliminate the impact of the landing. One of the most spectacular features of the Amusement Area, this is also a type of parachute jump similar to that which the armies of the world use in early stages of training for actual parachute jumping."
Here are some additional links and memories of the park and Parachute Jump:

And then there's this video, titled "Climbing the Parachute Jump," which is, terrifyingly, precisely what you would think:

But wait, there's more!
Now on to the back of this postcard. It was mailed with a one-cent stamp, postmarked on June 17, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, and cancelled with a "BUY WAR SAVINGS BONDS and STAMPS" stamp. It was mailed to a Mrs. A.B. Banker in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

The message, written in pencil in what looks like a child's cursive writing, states:
Dear Gram,
I am having a fine time. I am having alot of fun with Judy. She wants to come home with me. Anna said to tell you she will be expecting you for dinner at about 5 o'clock. Come before if you can. Read mothers card and let her read this. I found your gift but I will not open it until June 18th. Love, Terry.

1. Previous Papergreat posts about the 1939 New York World's Fair:
2. It was purchased for a whopping $150,000, the equivalent of about $2.5 million today.
3. The closing date of the Parachute Jump was a point of contention, but Wikipedia seems to have gotten it straightened out.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

1907 postcard: "How is Maud and the cat since?"

This well-worn postcard was sent to Mr. Percy C. Miller of Hellam, Pennsylvania, nearly 109 years ago. It's a view of York, Pennsylvania, from Reservoir Park.1

The note, written across the front of the card, states:
"April, 24, 1907; Dear Brother How did you get home, and what time was it. How is Maud and the cat since? Did you see anything of Nellie? Answer soon. Your Brother Oliver."
Well, we'll certainly never know what that business involving Percy and Oliver was all about.

1. According to the online History of The York Water Company, Reservoir Park was opened in 1903. Bounded by Grantley Road and Country Club Road, it was "made available to the public as 'a public breathing spot' to relieve the stress and strain of modern life."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Water-stained work of art III:
Mt. Washington Club, Maryland

The first two installments in the infrequent Water-stained Works of Art series featured the Hudson & Manhattan Subway Terminal and Princes Point on Orr's Island.1

This undated and damaged postcard is labeled "MT. WASHINGTON CLUB MD." On the reverse side, in the spot typically used for the publisher on vintage cards, is "H.R. Gwynn, 617 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md." The card was postmarked in 1909.

It appears that this crowd is watching a sporting event, and therefore my best guess it's a photograph of a lacrosse contest at the Mount Washington Athletic Club. The club traces its origins to 1876, according to its website and was officially founded and played its first game around 1904.2 The club has focused exclusively on lacrosse since 1906, and is one of the most successful organizations in the sport's history.

The fact that the photo shows a couple of young fans wearing Native American headdresses seems to add support to the idea that they're watching a lacrosse match. According to Wikipedia: "Lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now Canada. The game was extensively modified by European immigrants to North America to create its current collegiate and professional form."

This card was mailed to Miss Georgia B. Klinefelter3 in York and was postmarked on December 4, 1909.

The message states:
Dear Cousin,
Mama received your letter this am [a.m.] and I will look your you Monday. Do you recognize our summer residence?
Tom Bee.

"Tom Bee" might well be Baltimore Sun cartoonist Thomas Pollard Barclay. Here's an excerpt from a piece titled "A century of Sun cartooning":
"The Sun's first political cartoonist was McKee Barclay, a Louisville, Ky., native whose editorial cartoons and caricatures began appearing in the paper in 1908. His work appeared on the front of the newspaper's second section, which would be the equivalent of today's Maryland section.

"His younger brother, Thomas Pollard Barclay, whose signed his cartoons 'Tom Bee,' began working for the newspaper the same day. The brothers' work alternated in the same space while McKee contributed a series of illustrated articles titled 'Thumbnail Sketches' to The Evening Sun, which had been founded in 1910.

"Tom Barclay died during World War I, and McKee left The Sun in 1920 to work in advertising. He died in 1947."
And here's a short biography of "Tom Bee," also from The Baltimore Sun.

1. Reprints of the Princes Point on Orr's Island postcard are available on Redbubble, if you're interested.
2. In addition to the club website, I used this Wikipedia page as a source.
3. This is at least the seventh Georgia Klinefelter card featured on Papergreat. I most recently documented her postcards in November 2014.